Psychologist Jesse Bering has written one of the most remarkable popular science articles I have read in a very long time that discusses, believe it or not, zoophilia or the sexual attraction to animals. The piece for Scientific American is surprising, unnerving, hilarious, frightening and thought-provoking, all in equal measure.
The article considers to what extent sexual attraction to animals is a perversion, opportunistic sex act or a genuine sexual orientation and gives a comprehensive review of the (admittedly few) scientific studies in the area.
But the stereotypical portrait of the zoophile as a woman-deprived, down-on-the-farm, and poorly educated male is presently being challenged by some contemporary findings. The most fascinating of these, in my opinion, is a set of two case studies published by University of Montreal psychologist Christopher Earls and his colleague Martin Lalumi√®re, of the University of Lethbridge. The first case study appeared in 2002 in the journal Sexual Abuse and documented the story of a low-IQ‚Äôed, antisocial, fifty-four-year-old convict who had a strong sexual interest in horses. In fact, this was why he was in prison for the fourth time on related offenses; in the latest incident, he had cruelly killed a mare out of jealousy because he thought she‚Äôd been giving eyes to a certain stallion. (You thought you had issues.)
The man‚Äôs self-reported sexual interest in mares was actually verified by a controlled, phallometric study. When hooked up to a penile plethysmograph [a hard-on measuring device] and shown nude photos of all varieties and ages of humans, the man was decidedly flaccid. Nothing happening down there either when he looked at slides of cats, dogs, sheep, chickens, or cows. But he certainly wasn‚Äôt impotent, as the researchers clearly observed when the subject was shown images of horses.
The documentary Animal Passions is a serious attempt to understand the motivations of people who are sexually attracted to animals. Many of the people claim, apparently sincerely, to want to be in fulfilling romantic relationships with other species. Needless to say, it is similarly eye-opening. Although unnerving at times, it is not gratuitious and, in fact, is available on YouTube.
Bering discusses what science and philosophy makes of these unusual attractions and does a fantastic job of covering a difficult topic.
Link to Bering’s article on zoophilia at Scientific American.